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Accepting My Chronic Illness Doesn't Mean I've 'Given Up'

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I once had a doctor tell me I would have chronic health concerns my entire life. He said I would always need medical support of some kind. When he told me this, I was furious. I felt like he had waved a magic wand and cursed me somehow. I thought, “How dare he speak such negative words into my life? How can he even know that?! He isn’t psychic! He’s wrong! I’m going to get better!” But now I realize that he was merely trying to prepare me for the long road ahead of me.

By the time I saw this doctor, I had already been chronically ill for five years. It has now been seven years. Seven years since chronic illness began impacting my daily life, but looking back, I realize I’ve been ill, to some degree, my entire life.

My earliest childhood memory is of a headache. I remember being 2 years old, sitting on my grandmother’s sofa, feeling completely terrified because I had no idea what this intense pain in my head was. Growing up, the headaches became a regular occurrence, and I got used to them. I also remember moments when I would feel totally crushed by fatigue. As a child, I would be sitting at the dinner table, struggling to sit up and eat my meal, and my father would be so frustrated with me for not sitting up straight.

Over the years, my symptoms have waxed and waned. I have had periods of time when I have felt almost normal, but the chronic symptoms, especially the fatigue, are always lurking underneath the surface. I’ve learned that when it comes to chronic illness, nothing is permanent. Neither the good days nor the bad days are forever. My body is a different creature each day, and I have had to learn to adapt to these fluctuations. I have had to accept that this life with chronic illness is my reality.

Chronic illness elicits grief, and for a long time I have been in mourning. I’ve had to grieve the loss of the healthy life I thought I would have. I’ve had to grieve the loss of my healthy body. I’ve had to let go of a lot of the plans I had for my life. This is a hard thing to do, but with time, the weight of this grief has become lighter. There are still days when I feel sad and angry, but for the most part, I have accepted my illness, and I am at peace.

I never once imagined my life would look this way. I never imagined I would need daily medical interventions to keep my body functioning. And I certainly never imagined I would feel so grateful for these medical interventions. But I am. I am so grateful I have access to the medications and treatments that I need. I am grateful I am able to rest and care for myself as needed. I am grateful I have a supportive partner and friends who understand me and my needs.

woman receiving an infusion

People often misinterpret my acceptance of my illness as a sign that I have given up on healing and don’t have any faith. When I explain to them that I am at peace about my situation, that I have accepted my illness, they look at me with a mix of confusion and pity. They say things like, “Well, I’ll just have to have enough faith for the both of us. I have faith God will heal you. I have faith you’re going to get better.” Their words sting at first. It feels like they’re completely dismissing my feelings and the journey I have taken to get to this place of acceptance. But I know they aren’t intending to hurt me.

What I wish they could understand is that acceptance is not the absence of faith. Acceptance is not the absence of hope. Acceptance is not the same as wallowing. It simply means we release our attachment to any desired outcome. We release our attachment to how we think life should be and instead embrace life for what it is right here in the present moment.

Chronic illness is a part of my life right now. It may not be for the rest of my life, or maybe it will be. Either way, I know I am strong enough to handle it. I will continue to do whatever I need to do to feel as well as I possibly can. I may not have a perfect or easy life. I may not have good health, but I am grateful for what I do have. I have peace. For me, that is enough.

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Originally published: January 24, 2018
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